With just a week to go before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tentatively selects its new Lake Okeechobee “playbook,” today’s meeting was crucial.
Dozens of stakeholders — “project delivery team” members, federal and state agencies, local governments and members of the public — had a chance to weigh in and endorse one of six prospective plans.
It was a crucial opportunity to help shape water policy in Florida for the next decade, and many seized the chance.
But others ignored it — and a few seemed utterly unprepared.
LOSOM, as the playbook is known, will impact the future of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, the Lake Worth Lagoon, the Everglades and Florida Bay, and could be one of the greatest lines of defense for Floridians seeking relief from the health impacts of harmful algal blooms. The ecological health of Lake Okeechobee itself, water supply for agriculture and millions in South Florida, navigation and recreation all hang in the balance.
Yet the South Florida Water Management District, one of the most important stakeholders in the LOSOM process, wasn’t prepared to give a recommendation Monday. The SFWMD board won’t meet to stake out its official position until July 15 — just four days before the Corps’ decision.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Health — both with a clear stake in the outcome — also chose not to endorse any specific plan.
And it appeared many cities and counties certain to be impacted by LOSOM didn’t even attend the meeting.
If there was a consensus, it was support for Plan CC — so long as key changes are made to minimize damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
The federal Department of the Interior, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Bureau of Indian Affairs voiced support for a modified plan CC. So did the the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (which also expressed some support for plan DD), U.S. Rep. Brian Mast and the City of Stuart.
Several West Coast stakeholders also identified Plan CC as a potential front-runner, but only if modified to inflict less harm on the Caloosahatchee. We agree that the Caloosahatchee must get more relief — and that should happen by sending more clean water south during the dry season.
Communities around the lake favored Plan BB, which focuses on water supply – and was written by consultants who’ve worked for Florida’s powerful sugar industry.
Disappointingly, Plan BB was also endorsed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is helmed by Nikki Fried.
On July 19, the Corps will announce its tentative pick. That will be followed by a “listening tour” as the Corps travels the state seeking more feedback. Then, on Aug. 4, the Corps will make its final announcement.
There’s still time to let the Army Corps know that an enhanced Plan CC is best for the Greater Everglades, and the people and wildlife that depend on it. Use the button below to send a pre-formatted message to the Corps today.